My journey to becoming an animal rights activist began when I was a small child -- when I recognized that I felt a connection to, and empathy for, non-human animals. Although societal conditioning sometimes obscured that, especially as a child growing up in the 60s and 70s, it has always been a part of the foundation of who I am. I grew up in a meat-eating family and among meat-eating friends. In my world, I never heard the word "vegetarian," let alone "vegan," until much, much later.
I became a vegetarian in my early 30s after it occurred to me that I didn't want to take part in killing innocent beings for my food. I had no idea if eating this way would be healthy, as I didn't know any vegetarians and I didn't do any prior research. I simply made the decision based on my ethics and figured that if other people could do it, so could I. I also made this change when I was working as a police officer, which caused me some concern as this career can be viewed as a politically conservative one, whereas vegetarians are stereotypically viewed as very liberal. And while I did initially experience some pushback about my decision, others soon accepted it and it became a part of who I am, as did my eventual veganism.
One weekend, I had been hiking with my wife at the time in the Catskills when we decided that on the way home, we would stop at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. We went on a tour which was lead the founder Jenny Brown and learned the horrifying details of how farmed animals are treated, but it was the dairy part of the tour that totally blew my mind. I remember standing at a fence, looking at the cows and thinking, “what am I involved in?” It was a hugely profound moment, and I still can't believe that as a mature adult and a vegetarian, I hadn't figured out the truth of the dairy industry -- but that points to the effectiveness of our societal conditioning and the industry's marketing. It was at that moment, six and a half years ago, that I turned to my wife and said, "I'm vegan." My wife and children eventually went vegan as well; having a family that "got it" and were supportive was huge to me.
A couple of years later I began volunteering at that same farm sanctuary, and it was beyond amazing to be surrounded by so many other like minded vegans. I enjoyed it so much, I volunteered for over two years on a weekly basis . My time there was instrumental in my journey towards activism in that I was continually learning about the exploitation of non-human animals from their amazing staff and volunteers, some of whom had been active in animal advocacy. But most importantly, getting to really know the sanctuary residents -- like Andy, Lexi, Caesar, Olive, Clyde, and Benny -- as individuals and learning their stories made me feel even more deeply for those who weren't lucky enough to have escaped or to have been rescued.
Shortly after retiring from the Police Department in 2016, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina. I had never been to Asheville and knew no one, but it was known as “vegan-friendly” and I knew that I needed to get involved with a sanctuary there. After some searching I found Brother Wolf, a no-kill dog and cat rescue organization that was planning on opening a farmed animal sanctuary, and North Carolina Farmed Animal Save -- part of the Save Movement that holds vigils outside of slaughterhouses, showing compassion to animals in the moments before they are killed, as well as public outreach. I never thought I would have the emotional strength to take part of these vigils but once I did, I found the experience to be truly transformative. I now consider it a duty to attend these vigils -- to be there for the victims and to help people make the connection between the packages they buy at the grocery store and the very much living individuals that were killed for their food. While I participate in various forms of animal rights activism -- disruptions, marches, Cubes of Truth, protests, etc. -- it is the Save Movement's vigils that resonate with me so much that I co-founded Asheville Animal Save about a year ago. We are currently one of over 500 chapters worldwide.
Beyond fighting for something I believe in passionately, another benefit of doing animal rights activism, going to sanctuaries and being part of the animal rights community is that I've met the most amazing, strong, relentlessly compassionate and selfless people, some of whom I'm lucky enough to call good friends. One such close friend is Todd Friedman, the founder of Arthur's Acres Animal Sanctuary. Todd and I met over four years ago as volunteers at a farm sanctuary and I was immediately struck by his dedication to the animals. It has been such a privilege to see him go from sanctuary volunteer to employee to founder. It has been truly inspiring to watch him realize his dream, which in keeping with his selfless nature, is actually a dream for a better world for non-human animals. I'm very proud to help him as a board member of Arthur's Acres, and with the others who work tirelessly behind the scenes.
I look forward to sharing my story through Planting Seeds, and I hope you’ll continue to support Arthur’s Acres Animal Sanctuary and join us as we fight the good fight.
You can follow Tony's Journey on his Facebook and Instagram